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Open exclusively to its premium cardholders, the American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts program (often referred to as FHR) operates as a travel agency of sorts. The credit card company has negotiated special benefits with more than 1,000 hotels around the world so cardmembers can enjoy an upgraded experience, regardless of having elite status with a loyalty program.
While these are not always the cheapest rates available, the benefits can sometimes outweigh the difference in price in booking directly with the hotel or through another portal. Hotels in the program are typically in the upper echelon of their location; it’s rare to find a three-star airport hotel in FHR. The real value comes for those seeking service and benefits rather than those searching for the cheapest price.
Which cards are eligible?
Not every American Express card provides access to this hotel program. Only cardholders of The Platinum Card® from American Express, The Business Platinum Card® from American Express and Centurion Card from American Express are eligible for these perks. Members must use their credit card to book travel through the AmEx Travel portal or via telephone to be eligible for these rates and benefits.
Take note that The Hotel Collection from American Express, which is open to more cardmembers, is not the same program and comes with fewer benefits. Be sure you are using the Fine Hotels & Resorts link so that you can benefit from all the perks afforded by these rates.
What are the benefits?
For starters, the The Platinum Card® from American Express and The Business Platinum Card® from American Express deliver 5 Membership Rewards points per dollar spent on travel booked via the FHR portal. Upon arrival (and subject to availability), guests can check in to their room as early as noon and are eligible for a room category upgrade. Terms apply.
Keep in mind that some hotels may upgrade guests to a larger room or suite, while others could simply give you a room with a better view. Some top room categories are not eligible for upgrade.
During your stay, free wireless internet and breakfast for two people are packaged into the rate. On top of that, each hotel provides a special amenity valued at least $100 to use during the stay; this is often a food and beverage or property credit you can use at the spa, for example.
Some properties, like Park Hyatt Bangkok or The Peninsula Bangkok, may go above and beyond by offering dinner for two or a specific experience that would cost more than $100 in retail value.
This is where the real value lies, and many travelers don’t worry about paying more through the FHR program because of the amenities they receive during their stay.
Instead of paying cash for your booking, you can also use Membership Rewards points to pay for all or part of your hotel when reserving a room with your eligible card. Each point equals 1 cent, which means that 50,000 points would shave $500 off the total bill, for example. You must use a minimum of 5,000 points.
Additional fine print requires that the cardholder actually stay in the room (or one of the associated rooms) reserved to qualify for the benefits. To be eligible for the 5 Membership Rewards per dollar spent, an eligible Platinum or Centurion card must be used to pay for the reservation. If you have any additional cardholders under your account, they can also take advantage of the FHR program — it is applicable for anyone with an eligible card in their name.
How do you make a reservation?
While ultimately you need to log into your American Express account to make a reservation, you can search for hotels and their benefits directly from the FHR home page.
The process is not that different from searching for any other hotels, and the FHR website gives you the option to sort hotels by special offers or to view hotel positions using a map of the area.
Another interesting feature is that each hotel pulls reviews from TripAdvisor as well as their own review ranking, so travelers can read what others think of the hotel.
When you click on a hotel, it takes you to the various rates offered for different room categories and views. From there, you can click on the cancellation policy details. To use points or make a reservation, you have to log into your American Express account. That’s where you can opt to pay in full with cash or points, or decide to split payment between cash and points.
Depending upon travel dates, many hotels offer special promotions like a free night for multi-night bookings made through FHR. These can add substantial value on top of the perks that come with the Fine Hotels and Resorts program already.
What if I already have elite status with a brand?
A solid mix of independent and branded hotels participate in the FHR program, and this is a great way to double dip with your preferred loyalty program. In some cases, hotels that participate in loyalty programs like Marriott Bonvoy may award points when the reservation is booked through American Express — though anecdotally, your experience may vary. Some hotels also differentiate between prepaid rates and those paid at the hotel.
If you have elite status with a hotel brand, you might be able to benefit from the FHR perks as well as any benefits associated with your elite tier. If you don’t have elite status with a hotel, FHR rates can give you bonus perks you otherwise would not have had. Plus, independent hotels without any elite status perks automatically pack in more value when travelers use the FHR program.
How to Maximize Your Rewards
You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2020, including those best for:
Airline miles and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card
Flat-rate rewards with no annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Premium travel rewards: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card